Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Whose Sweetheart are You?

It was like finally finding a precious rare book that I had searched for half my life. But when I finally had it in my hands and turned the pages, the words had been wiped out by some disaster. It was like losing my sight and only being able to see shadowy fragments of figures that I couldn't quite make out. It was like watching history fade before my eyes and finding myself powerless to stop it.



Her hands were gnarled like ancient tree roots spreading sideways on rocky ground. Her left hand in particular was frozen in a grimace.

"I used to climb all the ways up in them apple trees to pick 'em. Some said I was the fastest apple picker round these parts." She said in a moment of clarity.

She looked sadly at that frozen left hand.

"Don't reckon I could even hold an apple anymore."

I can easily see in the bone structure of her face the ghost of a ravishingly beautiful mountain woman in her prime. Her eyes, now watery, must have been a cornflower blue in her day. Now in her late 80's, she sits in her chair, close to the television so those eyes can make out what is on the screen. Mizz Kay-reen can't hear so good either any more.

She says when she speaks, she hears her speech inside the bones of her face. She doesn't exactly say that, but I know that's what she means. Her good hand reaches up to stroke the bony part of her cheekbone next to her ear.

She has chosen the memories and thoughts she lives with very carefully. You can tell that other things are lurking just under the surface. She alternates between thanking God for letting her be on this earth so long and then looking impossibly sad. She is the only one of her sixteen siblings still living. She chooses to forget they are dead.

Scott is with me and when she asks, he tells her who is gone. I want to pinch him and tell him not to. I want her to hang onto her fragile fantasy because it keeps that impossible sadness from her eyes. It is painful for me to see.

She starts to tell me how she and her husband, Otis, met. Somehow, a story that must have begun with a ride in a horse-drawn wagon ends up being about the day Otis died. The two tales are now entwined in her mind. And that seems to be a metaphor for their relationship. For Mizz Kay-reen, the fifty years of marriage passed in a moment. One second, she is a fourteen year old girl meeting the love of her life, and the next, she is taking that final car ride to the hospital with him clinging to life.

She tells me not to waste time. She seems to think that Scott and I are engaged. She has projected her own love for Otis onto Scott's and my friendship.

Her eyes twinkle at me for a moment and I glimpse the wry humor she once possessed.

"Well, you ain't no spring chicken!" she says to me. "But you look like you might be a nice fat fryer!"

I laugh. I know I'm fat and I'm okay with that. We all laugh.

"What was your name again?" She asks for the third time.

Scott coaxes her to sing a few bars of "Beulah Land". Her voice is the high fluting voice of a young girl, untouched by her age. Words, she cannot remember in speech, come effortlessly to her while singing.

I listen, entranced, and silently curse my lack of a usb digital recorder. Such a voice really should be archived before it is gone. I want other people to hear her. I desperately want this.

She talks again about how God has been so good to her to let her live so long. Then she almost tears up. Then stops. Then she smiles and says God was so good to give her Otis. He never hit her and was always kind to her. Otis has been gone 20 years.

Scott told me she sometimes sees Otis in the room and speaks to him.

She comes back time and time again to the same story fragment. It is where she seems to spend most of her time.

"Otis, he would come up to me and ask...like he didn't know me...'Whose Sweetheart are you?!"

She self-consciously strokes the age spots on her left cheek, and I realize they are in the shape of a kiss.

She smiles shyly and coyly, like a young girl.

"Why I'm your Sweetheart! I'm yours!"

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Written by: Rosie
Smokey Mountian Breakdown

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